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Francene and Philip's story

‘I hated what happened to him and I blame myself a lot you know, because I should have been able to cope looking after him myself. I know I needed a break. That’s the way I feel.’

Francene found out her nine-year-old son, Philip, was being sexually abused after one day she told him to stop touching his genitals and he replied saying that was what Lorenzo, his respite carer did to him.

Shocked by what Philip had said, Francene got him to talk and draw pictures and in this way found out that Philip had been sexually abused over 12 months of weekends in Lorenzo Accardo’s home.

Philip had been diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder at an early age and his behaviour was often challenging. As a single parent, Francene welcomed the respite care offered by a community organisation near her home north of Brisbane. The organisation employed home-based carers to look after children with a variety of care needs and Accardo was one of their employees. After Philip’s revelation, Francene rang the coordinator of the community organisation who came immediately to her home and then reported the matter to Queensland Police.

Francene found the police ‘excellent’. Accardo initially denied all allegations related to the sexual abuse but later pleaded guilty, and in in the early 2000s was sentenced to seven years in prison.

At the same time as dealing with Philip’s matter, Francene found out that her daughter was being sexually abused by her grandfather, Francene’s father. It was devastating news, particularly because Francene had been sexually abused by her father throughout her childhood. Police charges were brought but as the case proceeded in court, a jury member suddenly withdrew and the result was a hung jury with no conviction recorded.

Philip told the Commissioner he found it hard to talk about being abused. He did so only with his mother’s help.
‘It was times I could not tell … she had to practically hold me down with her knees on my arms, let me cry, then talk. I could not mentally or physically talk, verbally talk to her about what happened cause I suffer from autism and I cannot actually verbally talk. I had to anger it out. I did punch walls. I hit my mum a couple of times which I do regret. I was nine years old.’

At one stage Philip had been referred to a psychiatrist but it hadn’t helped much and Francene thought the visits expensive and ‘just like chucking the money away’. By that time, Philip had received a victims of crime compensation payment of $37,500 of which $15,000 went in legal fees.

Francene told the Commissioner she had ‘a nervous breakdown’ after her children’s court cases. She didn’t remember much of the breakdown and ‘had to shake myself out of it’.

Part of her regret was trusting Accardo and his employer, and believing her son would be safe with carers within a community organisation. ‘Anybody can go and get a blue card’, she said. ‘As long as you’ve got no conviction, anybody can go and get one … I don’t know how they would do it – screen a person like that because you don’t know.’

Francene hadn’t seen a counsellor herself but wanted to. ‘I’d love to have some help. I need closure. I know it will never close. I know that I’m going to go to my grave with it, but if I can get some help to cope with it – because I know I’m not coping. People will come over and I’ll talk about it and I shouldn’t be. I was doing pretty well until my children were abused and that was my downhill, you know. I just went down. That happened, I just thought, “Why?” Three people in one family. All of us and it’s so unfair.’

Philip said he’d like to talk to someone other than his mother about some of the thoughts he has about the abuse. ‘It never goes away. It’s always in your mind ‘cause when you try to do something it plays mind games so it’s just brainwashing. It brainwashes you.’

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